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close this bookEcotourism and other Services Derived from Forests in the Asia- Pacific Region: Outlook to 2010. (FAO - Forestry, 1997)
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View the documentCOUNTRY NOTE: CHINA
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View the documentCOUNTRY NOTE: NEPAL
View the documentCOUNTRY NOTE: POHNPEI


Whilst the extent and causes of forest loss in Nepal may be debated, there is little argument that it is an ongoing issue. The conventional wisdom of deforestation in Nepal relates to the impact of subsistence families. The realization that a majority of households rely on biomass products led many observers to conclude that firewood consumption by subsistence farmers was the cause of rapid deforestation and desertification observed both in semi-arid and mountainous regions.

Critics have questioned the fundamental assumption that environmental degradation is caused by subsistence farming families. Three significant alternative causes of the environmental difficulties in Nepal often are overlooked: the geological characteristics of the region, illegal timber harvesting, and rapid modernization stimulated by the development process itself.

Recently, calls for the integration of indigenous knowledge into agroforestry projects have become more common. This is at least partially caused by the need to better target research, ethical concerns about participation and power, and the recognition that indigenous knowledge systems are a potentially important source of understanding as complement to scientific knowledge. Incorporating this knowledge into development may be achieved through farmer participation in research planning and implementation, external survey of local needs as a basis for planning, and an active synthesis of indigenous and scientific knowledge (Walker, Sinclair and Thapa 1995).

Stevens (1993) provides an important view on services of forests and forest management within Sherpa culture. In the past twenty years there has been increasing international concern about environmental change in the Sagamartha (Everest) region, including that tourism and changing Sherpa lifestyles and land use have resulted in a deforestation crisis. These conclusions have enormous implications for local resource policy and for Sherpa life. Yet, according to Stevens, major deforestation has not taken place recently, and old deforestation has been mistaken for recent change. Therefore, the assumptions about the traditional Sherpa lifestyles and forest management have had to be revised.

In the Terai, issues are different. Land ownership patterns with resultant levels of landlessness and near landlessness (L/NL) continue to exert pressure on forests. Change may be occurring with the movement towards Department of National Parks and Wildlife incorporating buffer zone management strategies and assessing the potential for this as a mechanism for forest preservation through community forestry. However, the problems remain related to funding of forest initiatives (in particular the national park systems) coupled with in-migration and entrenched landlessness, so there are no easy solutions.

Since the 1950s, there has been a tremendous growth in mountaineering and trekking tourism in Nepal. In 1988, 266,000 foreign tourists arrived in Nepal, with Indians comprising the largest group (27%) (Parker 1993). While Indians visit for pilgrimages, luxury holidays, and buying sprees, non-Indians primarily visit for culture, sightseeing, natural history and a variety of sporting activities. Using the latter two categories to represent nature tourism, Parker (1993) reports that 77,539 nature tourists, 31% of all tourists, visited Nepal in 1987. However this figure probably underestimates the number of nature tourists.

In 1988, tourism was the country’s leading foreign exchange earner, and about 11,000 people were directly employed in the tourism sector (Wells 1993). Wells estimates that US$26.8 million in tourist expenditure (1988) is attributable to the country’s protected area network. Fees are collected by various government agencies for activities such as trekking, rafting, and mountaineering, as well as for visiting national parks. However, for many years, the Annapurna Conservation Area fee was the only one specifically utilized for environmental and development purposes. Implementation of the 1993 amendment to Nepal’s Wildlife Conservation Act, as described in Section 4.4, should lead to a greater distribution of ecotourism-related revenue toward community development.

The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) represents a widely-cited innovative approach to community participation in natural resource management (e.g., Brandon 1996). Established in 1986, it was the first attempt to develop a central management plan to strike a balance between the needs of local people, tourism development, and nature conservation. The management of the area has been delegated to the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, a non-government organization. ACAP has encouraged local participation in natural resource management, in contrast to the top-down approach of regulations by outsiders, mainly the Nepal Army in Chitwan and Sagamartha.

Through the ACAP, local people benefit from fixed prices for food and lodging. ACAP also has introduced lodge management courses to improve service quality and energy-efficient applied technologies, such as backboiler water heaters. The area has been established as a multiple use area (hunting and collection of forest products are permitted) and involves delegation of management authority to the village level. The aim of the project has been to reduce the environmental impacts of visitation while simultaneously increasing the economic benefits from tourism.

A similar programme has been developed in Makalu-Barun. The priority is on increasing and diversifying incomes to reduce pressure on the core area. Activities include supporting ecotourism, promoting weaving and papermaking from indigenous natural resources, production and marketing of handicrafts, and improved agricultural production (Odell 1996). Handicraft and production activities are estimated to generate local revenues of some Rs. 500,000 to 1,000,000 (US$10,000 to US$20,000) or between Rs. 1,000 and 2,000 per family involved (approximately 10% of average per capita income). The trekking programme is estimated to generate approximately Rs. 4 to 5 million. While the national park collects a US$12 fee from all entering trekkers, these visitors spend an average of US$10 per day in the local communities for supplies, porters, lodging, food, and handicrafts.

Odell (1996) goes on to note that the programme has led to increasing local environment awareness and improved local management of community forests, grazing lands, and natural resource conservation. Resident support for conservation is illustrated by 1) the local arrest of a poacher who was turned in to authorities, 2) the confiscation and reporting by local people of illegally harvested lokta bark used in manufacture of handmade Nepali paper, and 3) a petition by communities formerly opposed to the establishment of the park to be included within the project area.

There are several governmental and non-governmental agencies involved in ecotourism in Nepal, including the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Department of Forestry, Nepal Army, Trekking Agents Association of Nepal and the Department of Tourism. In 1990 there were 82 registered trekking and mountaineering agencies (Parker 1993), yet a survey indicated that few were incorporating environmental awareness in to their programmes.

Problems identified by trekking agencies include the need for education of personnel in the tourist industry on environmental issues, fuel depots, litter control, medical assistance and demand for agricultural produce on major trekking routes. Congestion on main trekking routes is also perceived to be a problem especially in the three main areas of Annapurna, Sagamartha National Park, and Langtang National Park.

Tour guides area required to be licensed and registered with the Tourist Guide Association of Nepal. They are required to complete a nine week training course through the Department of Tourism, though this has been reported as inadequate (Parker 1993). There is a need for additional specialized training, such as naturalists and refresher courses (see Section 4.14).

The negative environmental impacts increase when the movement and behaviour of tourists are not well managed. This is especially problematic in Nepal with independent trekkers. There is considerable debate in the Nepal industry over the advantages and disadvantages of independent trekkers and group trekking. Some argue that groups are less damaging as they burn kerosene (though many do not provide it for their staff and porters) and have licensed guides. Groups have less cultural impact on the villages because they are self contained. However, many groups do not contribute to the local economy, as they bring their food supplies and porters from Kathmandu. In comparison, independent trekkers contribute to the local rural economy because they stay and eat in locally run lodges, but they are more difficult to manage and monitor than group trekkers.

Tour guides are the key to educating tourists regarding environmental and cultural impacts. There needs to be training of “environmental guides” who can accompany trekking groups and particularly those to environmentally fragile areas. Currently, many of the guides accompanying trekking groups originate form Kathmandu and have limited knowledge of the specific areas. The use of guides from the area where the trekking is undertaken can improve this deficiency and is particularly important in the newly opened trekking areas which have not yet experienced significant impacts from tourism.